Success in online courses depends on quality interactions (Li & Akins, 2005; Shovein, Huston, Fox, & Damazo, 2005; Vrasidas, 2002). Interaction is “a continually emerging process, as communication in its most inclusive sense” (Simpson & Galbo, 1986). Pena-Shaff, Altman, and Stephenson (2005) found that students who interact more in online classes tend to feel a greater amount of satisfaction and even engage more deeply in course content. In fact, recent studies have shown that the most efficient computer-mediated learning occurs when teachers and students assume a connected stance (Wegmann, 2006; Wegmann & Mc- Cauley, 2007), or one in which students and teachers participate in the following types of behaviors online: initiate personally meaningful questions about the text, wonder, or initiate unique topics for discussion. The following reports on one study that analyzed students’ discussion board interactions, surveys of students’ perceptions, and e-mail interviews of selected participants. Following is a discussion of three areas of literature pertinent to the study: nature of interactions, computer-mediated communication, reading and writing theory.
Nature of Interactions
Mehan (1979) found that most discourse in face-to-face classrooms followed an Initiate, Respond, Evaluate, or IRE, pattern. Teachers mainly ask questions (initiate) which students answer (respond), after which teachers evaluate students’ responses (evaluate). This type of discourse is a perfectly acceptable pattern of interaction in some courses. However, some researchers found that this was not an optimum pattern for maximizing student learning (Cazden, 1988; Wells & Arauz, 2006). Instead, some researchers argue that more optimal interactions are found in genuine discussion (Dillon, 1994), grand conversations (Eeds & Wells, 1989), Socratic questioning techniques (Hale, 2002), or interactions in which participants assume a connected stance (Wegmann & McCauley, 2007).
These more optimal approaches to conducting lessons are influenced by numerous factors, including Bakhtin’s notion of the dialogue that occurs in every communication event. According to Bakhtin (1986), a dialogic chain connects all utterances to other communications. The nature of one link in the chain influences all subsequent links. Asynchronous in nature, the chains of utterances online typically take place over time: one hour, day, week, month, or semester. Since computers may influence the nature of the dialogic chain, computer-mediated communication is another important field of research that informs this study.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Decoding: Reading (silent or oral).
Social Ability: Ability to participate in the social functions of the online class.
Evocation: The unique occurrence when readers interact with texts.
Reader Response Theory: Developed by Louise Rosenblatt, refers to meaning-making while reading involving the reader, the text, and the evocation. Honoring all three aspects of reading, reader response theory posits that learners assume a stance on a continuum which has a predominantly efferent end and a predominantly aesthetic end. Depending on their stance, readers understand text for different purposes. Readers are also influenced by their own unique linguistic experiential reservoir.
Linguistic Experiential Reservoir: The language and experiences each person accumulates and brings to each reading of text.
Efferent Stance: Refers to the readiness to respond to a text with the purpose of a later event. I.e. reading a textbook for the purpose of being tested on it.
Computer-Mediated Communication: Gathering and giving information with a computer as the vehicle. Online courses enact this type of communication.
Aesthetic Stance: Refers to the readiness to respond to a text with the focus on during the reading event. I.e. reading for pleasure with no sense of time passing.
Connected Stance: Readiness to respond in a way that invigorates motivation and causes students and teachers to engage with the text or discussion. (whether oral or online)
Stance: Readiness to respond to a text in a certain way.
Dialogic Chain: Posited by Bakhtin, refers to the notion that all (spoken and written) words are in answer to other words. All words also incite subsequent words, as well.
IRE Pattern: Developed by Mehan, refers to Initiate, Respond, Evaluate pattern found in most school discourses.